We play catch-up this week beginning a multi-part look at a host of recent releases from the reissue arm of Columbia and RCA Records (a.k.a. Sony BMG Music), that being the Legacy Records imprint. The mix is some dandy country reissues and a new series from the label focusing on classic albums from the Summer of Love. These include recordings from The Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, and The Remains. Let’s get to it.
Crooner Par Excellence
Those familiar with the long and illustrious career of Country Music Hall of Fame member Ray Price could say he was a crooner trapped in a country & western singer’s body. Had he fallen under the tutelage of a Bing Crosby rather than Hank Williams (who took a young Price under his wing as a C&W neophyte and which went as far as Price inheriting Williams’ Drifting Cowboys band after the legend’s unexpected death), here’s thinking Price may have been one of the pop singing kingpins of all time. He was that smooth and debonair when it came to the pipes. Considered one of the great innovators, it was Price who created a hard country sound all unto his own in the 1950s, that being a shuffle rhythm which would be referred to as the “Ray Price Beat.” Price would patent this country shuffle sound via a series of late 1950s hits. As the 1960s progressed, Price’s sound became smoother and smoother and the crooner side more prevalent. It culminated with his 1967 hit version of “Danny Boy”. The rendition gained Price as many new fans as it lost old ones who thought he had sold out. Recently celebrating his 80th birthday, Legacy Recordings does it up right by trotting out the excellent two-CD collection titled The Essential Ray Price (Legacy 94562). Featuring 40 tracks spanning his first single for the Bullet label from 1950 (“Jealous Lies”) through a 1980 duet with Willie Nelson covering Bob Wills’ “Faded Love”, this collection offers a satisfying looks at both sides of the Price equation from keening country shuffle nuggets through pop leaning balladry.
Thanks to its recent merger with BMG which held the to the RCA vaults, Sony Music, now called Sony-BMG, has added the RCA catalogue to its Legacy Recording series. On the country & western front, that is nothing but good news with the recent reissue of three vintage Dolly Parton albums another feather in the Sony-BMG cap. Released in 1971, ’73, and ’74, respectively, and available as expended editions with bonus tracks along with new liner notes and unseen photos, the albums Coat of Many Colors (RCA Nashville/Legacy 81242), My Tennessee Mountain Home (RCA Nashville/Legacy 81529) and Jolene (RCA Nashville/Legacy 81241) put Parton on the map to stay. Thanks to her high profile role on Porter Wagoner’s weekly variety show (and her partnership on the recording front with him), Parton was riding high when she embarked on a career as a solo artist. While her pristine singing and complimentary guitar picking were wonderful, it was Parton’s songwriting, heartfelt tunes that drew upon her Smokey Mountains upbringing, that enamored her to C&W fans. “Coat of Many Colors” and “My Blue Tears” from the album Coat of Many Colors, “Sacred Letter” and the title track from My Tennessee Mountain Home, and “I Will Always Love You” and the title track from Jolene, were the type of songs a singer/songwriter would give their right eye to have written and sung. They were just one of many high points from Parton. It makes these reissues downright essential.
Johnny Cash always had a soft spot for gospel music. Heck, it was his love of the form that caused his break from Sun Records where Sam Phillips would have none of it. Columbia Records, Cash’s home after Sun, had no problem the Cash’s love of gospel music allowing him plenty of latitude when it came to sacred songs. Spanning 1957 – 1981, the collection Cash – Ultimate Gospel (Columbia/Legacy 00739) gathers 24 tracks, three of which of previously unreleased, of prime spirituals and hymns from The Man in Black. Including eight tracks featuring the Carter Family, this is Cash in what some may argue was his prime element, singing songs of the cloth with heartfelt sincerity. (Legacy Recordings, 550 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10022, or www.legacyrecordings.com)
(Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3. He lives in Peace Dale and can be reached at [email protected].)<...